Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s classic (1840) Two Years Before the Mast and Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man (1989) were formative works for me in my early adolescence. I was captured by Dana and L’Amour’s travels on land and on sea – the places they saw, the experiences they had. I wanted to experience the world like they had – to have my own adventures to report.
Most of my life has been spent in two locales – Westerlo (New York) and Langhorne (Pennsylvania). I did manage to make it up to Alaska and worked for a summer as a deckhand in Ninilchik. That was a memorable experience.
The next summer I was married and my days of wandering about without significant responsibilities were in the past.
From Augusta (Maine) to Los Angeles (California) is around 3300 miles. With a little training, one could walk twenty miles per day. At that pace it would take 165 days to travel across the continental United States.
[Note the tattoos on this individual’s arm, these are part of the hobo code which was used in the past and may still occasionally surface contemporaneously to communicate with other hobos messages such as friendly folks ahead, or the law gives hobos trouble in this town, and so on]
If I were going to try it today, I’d probably reach out to intentional communities along my planned path of travel, asking if I could camp for a few nights on their property along the way in exchange for labor. One could also use couch surfing, which would be a good option for filling in the holes, but I think visiting intentional communities would be a real experience in and of itself.
In previous years, hopping onto a freight train was a preferred method of travel.1This video includes some sporadic profanity. This would certainly be quicker than walking – but the trains now move at much higher speeds and the concerns regarding terrorism have resulted in a significant locking down of the trains by law enforcement.
Realistically, it’d probably take at least 200 days to make it across the nation. If the journey were to continue for a year, I’d think about picking up an inexpensive mode of transportation and use it to travel north and south in a zig zag pattern back to the east coast, hitting all the states I’d been unable to visit when walking to the west coast.
There is a nifty article over at wikiHow on some of the practical considerations one would need to take if one wanted to be a hobo. A hobo is what I’d be going for. What makes one a hobo? “A hobo is a person that travels to work. A tramp is a person that travels and won’t work. A bum is a person that will neither travel nor work.”
It seems to me that what differentiates the hobo is his/her intention to “carry his own weight” and not be a burden upon society. There is even an ethical code written in 1889 for hobos. It includes guidelines such as, “always respect the local law and officials”, “try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants”, and “always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling” (jungling is camping).
|↑1||This video includes some sporadic profanity.|